Saturday 28 August 2021

Theatre review: Salomé

Oscar Wilde is known for extremes: The frothy comedies on one hand, the disgrace and despair of his later years on the other. Somewhere in between was his desire to add a more dramatic string to his bow, and like Racine a couple of centuries earlier he wanted to take Greek Tragedy as his starting point. His personal life having other plans, the only one of these tragedies he actually got to write was Salomé, which applies a biblical story to that format, ending up with a twisted and gory dance through the extremes of sexual obsession. And that's before you get to the added twists individual productions might have in mind: Ricky Dukes' for Lazarus Theatre isn't even the first I've seen to queer up Wilde even further, by gender-flipping the title character. King Herod (Jamie O'Neill) has, in a plot point reminiscent of another famous tragedy, had his own brother killed and married his widow, Herodias (Pauline Babula.) Apart from the obvious, the tension in their marriage is also caused by Herod's undisguised interest in her son Salomé (Fred Thomas.)

Thursday 26 August 2021

Theatre review: 2:22 A Ghost Story

SPOILER ALERT: I don't spoil any twists that actually happen in the play in this review; however I do mention a couple of red herrings that don't lead to anything, so you may want to consider that if you're planning on seeing the show and want it to fully misdirect you.

Tuesday's West End trip saw a TV show spin off to the stage; Thursday's doesn't actually do the same with a podcast (although that's bound to be on the cards next,) but it does market itself heavily on the back of one. I did in fact listen to The Battersea Poltergeist, which I found a suitably chilly accompaniment to a winter lunchtime walk around the park, but I hadn't realised quite how many others were doing the same - apparently at one point it was the most listened-to drama podcast worldwide, so it makes sense that playwright Danny Robins' new play would want to capitalise on the notoriety of a show he wrote and hosted. Especially when that play is called 2:22 A Ghost Story. New parents Jenny (Lily Allen) and Sam (Hadley Fraser) are renovating the large East London house they recently bought off an elderly widow. But for the most part Jenny has been there alone with their baby, as astronomer Sam has been working on Sark, an island noted for its clear skies with no light pollution.

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Theatre review: The Windsors: Endgame

I'm not sure I like the increasing trend for popular TV sitcoms to get a West End outing and haven't been to many of them, but George Jeffrie & Bert Tyler-Moore 's The Windsors has been one of my favourite shows of recent years so I made an exception: The TV version is presumably not going to be returning following Jeffrie' s (non Covid-related) death just under a year ago, but he had managed to finish the first draft of The Windsors: Endgame with his writing partner. For those unfamiliar with the sitcom, it essentially plays the current members of the British Royal Family (minus the Queen and Prince Philip) as an overwrought soap opera, with Camilla Parker-Bowles as the overarching villain, plotting to get Charles the crown, and then grab power for herself. This stage finale sees what would happen when she finally got her way - funnily enough the broad strokes of the plot are similar to King Charles III, although this being a much sillier affair it doesn't actually kill off Elizabeth II, it just follows up on the real-life death of Prince Philip to have her abdicate in favour of Charles (Harry Enfield.)

Thursday 19 August 2021

Theatre review: Big Big Sky

The studio venue with the most disproportionate set design budget in London recreates a real place from Tom Wells' past, as Hampstead Downstairs plays host to Big Big Sky, and designer Bob Bailey takes us into a café where the playwright used to work. In the village of Kilnsea where Wells grew up, the café is at a particularly remote point, because it serves the hordes of birdwatchers who arrive every spring and summer, hoping to catch sight of some of the rare sea birds that flock to the coast. Angie (Jennifer Daley) only gets customers between April and October so she closes the café every winter, and will soon close it for good - the play essentially tracks her last year running the place, as a new bird observatory nearby will put her out of business. She's helped out by local teenager Lauren (Jessica Jolleys,) and most days Lauren's widowed father Dennis (Matt Sutton) pops in just after closing, hoping to get a free Cornish pasty from the leftovers, and maybe a chat with Angie.

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Theatre review: Paradise

Kae Tempest's Paradise was originally due to run in the Olivier last summer, which makes it the latest rescheduled show to have me wondering how much rewriting or reimagining it had over lockdown - one of its themes is of people who've been isolated for some time, baulking at the thought of returning to the outside world. Then again this new version of Sophocles' Philoctetes is so full of themes and musings that it would no doubt strike some topical notes at any time. Certainly in light of the last few days' news, it finds an instant relevance in the setting for Ian Rickson's production - a dusty Mediterranean or Middle Eastern refugee camp, where the chorus of women (Claire-Louise Cordwell, ESKA, Amie Francis, Sutara Gayle, Jennifer Joseph, Sarah Lam, Penny Layden, Kayla Meikle and Naomi Wirthner) talk about wars that, after decades of fighting and death, only ever go round in circles when they look like they're about to be resolved.

Thursday 12 August 2021

Theatre review: John & Jen

A chamber musical by Andrew Lippa (music and lyrics) and Tom Greenwald (book and lyrics,) John & Jen was the composer's first musical, premiering in 1993. Originally set between 1952 and 1990, Guy Retallack's production in the Little at Southwark Playhouse is the debut of a rewritten new version: With the protagonists' personal lives sometimes being buffeted about by world affairs, the action has been moved forward to strike familiar notes to a new generation. So John (Lewis Cornay) is now born in 1985, and the action takes us all the way through 2020 Zoom calls to an ending slightly in the future*. Five or so years older than him, his sister Jen (Rachel Tucker) is old enough to know he's going to have a tough time, and swears to protect him from life, and particularly from their abusive father. In the first act we see their close relationship growing up, but as a teenage Jen has the chance to go to university and escape their family, she leaves John behind as well.

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Theatre review: Twelfth Night (Shakespeare's Globe)

Without the new writing or more obscure revivals that sometimes take us into the autumn at Shakespeare's Globe, it's already time for my last outdoor visit of this summer season (there is one more show scheduled, but it's in the Swanamaker,) and it's the regular onstage appearance of the Artistic Director, as Michelle Terry takes on Viola in Twelfth Night. Shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria - here a scrapyard full of car parts, old neon signs, a jukebox and other clutter of 1950s Americana in Jean Chan's design - Viola makes a beeline for the local Duke, Orsino (Bryan Dick.) Disguised as a boy called Cesario, she falls for him immediately, but he's smitten with the unattainable, grieving Countess Olivia (Shona Babayemi.) When "Cesario" is sent as an envoy of Orsino's love to Olivia, the circle of unrequited love is completed when she's instantly attracted to "him."

Saturday 7 August 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Masks and Faces, or,
Before and Behind the Curtain

The Finborough has held off on reopening for live performances until next month due to the added challenges faced by a venue of its size; but not having any intention of being forgotten until then, it's continuing with the online offerings. This time it's the unlikely pairing of Restoration Comedy with Zoom calls with, as part of the Kensington and Chelsea Festival, the rediscovery of Charles Reade and Tom Taylor's Masks and Faces, or, Before and Behind the Curtain. It's fair to say I approached this one cautiously: I've enjoyed Restoration Comedy before but usually it takes quite a lot of work from a production for me to like it. Most of the time we see people in the usual ridiculous outfits and wigs blandly exchanging lines that were very funny at the time but... not so much now. So in a format that just relies on the lines and the actors' faces, with no chance of physical interaction with each other, let alone the audience, I didn't expect much. So what a pleasant surprise for Matthew Iliffe's production to add Masks and Faces to the list of "where has this been hiding all these years?" Finborough rediscoveries.

Thursday 5 August 2021

Re-review: Constellations
(Omari Douglas/Russell Tovey cast)

For anyone who needs catching up: Nick Payne's Constellations, one of my favourite plays of the last decade, is back in the West End this summer in Michael Longhurst's original production, with a casting twist that sees four new pairs of actors take on the two-hander in repertory. Tempted as I was to book all four I decided to limit myself to two versions, and even if I hadn't alluded to it in my review of the Capaldi/Zwanamaker version, regular readers of this blog will both have been able to easily guess at the second. Even if it hadn't been for the presence of OG Big Favourite Round These Parts Russell Tovey, part of the idea behind this new casting gimmick was for as many theatregoers as possible to see themselves in Roland and Marianne: So they became a young Black couple, then a much older couple than is usually cast, and now the third cast is here to make them an interracial gay couple*.

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Theatre review: The Two Character Play

If it's not common knowledge quite how long and prolific Tennessee Williams' writing career actually was, it's not just a case of not all his Southern melodramas being up there with A Streetcar Named Desire and the other hits; it's also that later in his career he experimented with other styles wildly different from what he's best-known for. As Hampstead Theatre resumes its aborted 2020 anniversary season of shows that premiered there over its long history of new writing, we get to Williams channeling Beckett (worrying,) Ionesco and Pirandello (better) in 1967's The Two Character Play. It does share with earlier work like The Glass Menagerie a personal inspiration: Williams' relationship with his troubled sister Rose, whose mental health problems and the brutal way they were treated give those plays a tragic undertone. But here not only does it seem like we meet a Rose avatar after the lobotomy, that could be the state of mind the whole play takes place in.